Wynwood’s only graffiti supply shop -- is closing on January 15. It’s another example of how the neighborhood in Miami is quickly changing.
The sign out front of 004 Connec bears the graffiti shop’s motto in black and white, framed by colorful murals: “A lifestyle. Not an image.”
004 Connec has been selling spray paint on the corner of Miami Avenue and N. 24th Street since 2010, just as the Wynwood neighborhood started its dramatic transformation from a marginal, industrial area into a top tourist attraction and Instagram icon.
A few weeks ago, Eric Denis, the owner of the shop, received a legal notice that he had 45 days to vacate the premises, as the owners revoked a leasing contract the shop had been operating under. The original notice ordered the shop to vacate by December 31, but a subsequent legal letter extended it to January 15.
Even as the neighborhood has become synonymous with graffiti culture, its graffiti supply stop is the most recent of longtime businesses to be pushed out.
“This is the only thing that has been consistent in our community,” says artist ABSTRK, real name Rick Mastrapa, who collaborates closely with the shop. “It’s the only place where you can buy spray paint that’s being sold by people who have something to do with -- and who know the integrity of -- our culture.”
Denis, the owner, says the shop has operated as a physical hub for graffiti artists, ranging from locals to those who pour into town during Art Basel. “This would be like headquarters,” he says. “004 isn’t just a company, man, or a brand. It’s family, it’s community, it’s a whole city.”
The name for the shop comes from the federal inmate register number code for any inmate coming from the Southern District of Florida. "So if you see someone with an 004 you know they're from around here," said Denis, who came up with the name while serving federal time over a decade ago.
The weight of closing his shop's doors hangs heavy on Denis. He started selling spray paint from his car in Hialeah and later started his own paint company, Evolve, before opening a physical shop in Wynwood. For a long stretch, the neighborhood was marked by creativity and a feeling that artists were the ones who were starting a movement, he says.
“It was so dope, it was fun, it was organic, it was just fresh,” says Denis. “Now it’s just -- it seems like it’s dying. It’s becoming so corporate, this neighborhood is nowhere near what it used to be.”
The property 004 Connec occupies was sold for $6.3 million in 2015, according to county property records. As rents rose, Denis adapted. 004 Connec has added a bar and food options. The shop recently started selling shirts and hats through a collaboration with Dadewear, a local clothing company.
Adam Vargas, who goes by the artist name ATOMIK, says he's surprised it didn’t happen sooner.
“You can only sell so much spray paint. In Wynwood you gotta have other hustles," he says. "And he’s done it, he’s adapted to the changes, and he’s toughed it out for quite a while here.”
For years, 004 Connec played a major role for up-and-comers in the graffiti community, says ATOMIK. “Early on he supported me and my crew, you know, helped us out with paint for murals and different projects that we had. [Eric] even got a color for me, it was my first collaboration with a brand in spray paint.”
A wall in the back of the shop has long served as a practice space for people learning the craft of graffiti. Novices use it to learn different techniques, how caps work, how to blend and fade colors.
“We wouldn’t have that wall without 004,” says Ryan Ferrell, an artist and Miami’s Best Graffiti Guide tour operator who goes by the name Ryan the Wheelbarrow.
Walls surrounding the shop have long stood out from others in the neighborhood, most which could get tagged up almost daily. Month after month, 004’s walls would remain untouched by fellow artists, says Ryan the Wheelbarrow.
“That shows you the respect that vandals have for that code of graffiti, those kinds of ethics that you have to abide by because it’s all about commanding that space,” he says. “They’ve owned that space.”
As Wynwood gets pricier and more high-rises go up, the whole concept of public art in the neighborhood is shifting. Two billboards now hang on the side of a high-rise building under construction, touting condos for sale. They’re clearly visible from NW 2nd Avenue, the main strip.
“During Basel a few weeks ago, they had ads getting projected onto the side of some of those walls,” says Ryan the Wheelbarrow. “So you know which direction this is all heading in.”
The registered owners of the building 004 Connec occupies share an address with the New York headquarters of East End Capital, a real estate investment company that has Miami offices a few doors down from the shop. Efforts to reach the owners of the building for comment about future plans for the space went unanswered.
Denis is looking for a new space, hopefully not far from his Wynwood location. In the meantime, 004 Connec will be selling spray paint and clothing on its website.
“This is our passion, man,” says Denis. “This isn’t a big time, money making business.”
Artist ABSTRK says even as an outsized player in the artist community leaves Wynwood, the culture will keep moving forward.
“The space doesn’t make us. We make the space. So we can go anywhere and it’ll be dope,” says ABSTRK. “But it’s always good to be connected to an area where you feel like you took part in the movement. You don’t want to be displaced from a neighborhood that you contributed to the hype for.”